South Carolina finally has rules to go along with plans to elect the governor and lieutenant governor together starting this November.
The Senate ended more than five years of debate over the joint ticket with a 39-0 in March.
Voters approved changing the state constitution in 2012 to stop electing the governor and lieutenant governor separately. But legislators could not reach an agreement on details in choosing the state's top two political leaders until roughly three months before the June primaries.
The impasse came down to money: Some lawmakers wanted to include what would amount to pay raises for all constitutional officers, not just the lieutenant governor, as well as judges. Others wanted to stick with the intent of the referendum and deal with those salaries later. Starting this process much earlier would have given them the time to include a fair salary for the lieutenant governor's job, which becomes a full-time position with the 2018 election.
The House added the proposal for the Agency Head Salary Commission to study the salaries of every constitutional officer, such as treasurer and secretary of state, and judges. The ill-conceived move, which likely would have led to pay raises for everyone, created an instant roadblock to getting the joint-ticket rules passed.
It's logical that the lieutenant governor's new duties would merit a pay raise. At $46,545 a year, the job pays less than half of what the governor makes and far less than other constitutional officers. But there's no excuse for five years of procrastination. Better time management, and less of an appetite for overreaching on legislation, would help avoid this kind of problem in the future.
While the salary increases are off the table for now, lawmakers haven't given up on them. State Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Camden, recently introduced a bill that calls for paying a private firm to do a salary study of all constitutional offices. Another proposal calls for lawmakers to come up with a salary plan and revisit it every four years.
It makes sense to periodically examine pay, but in doing so lawmakers should remember that elected officials run for office knowing what the pay would be. The truth is that in a state of 5 million people, there are citizens who could do a good job leading our state at the positions' current pay level — if they were up to the challenge of navigating a sometimes dysfunctional and frustrating system.
In this case, it's just plain wrong to use a constitutional amendment approved by South Carolina voters to lard on salary increases for officials who have nothing to do with the 2012 referendum. Voters wanted the governor and lieutenant governor to run on the same ticket, that's all, so those are the only parameters the Legislature needed to agree on. The debate over pay raises can follow implementing the will of the people on the governor and lieutenant governor running as a team.
This editorial is adapted from an editorial and coverage by The Post and Courier of Charleston.